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Wednesday, 14 March 1973
Page: 541

Mr OLLEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to Mr Schneider's article in the 'Daily Telegraph' today claiming that the Federal Government's health insurance scheme will cost far more than anticipated, and that rising doctors' and hospital fees have turned and will continue to turn the Government's costing of its health scheme into an underestimate? Are these statements correct and is he justified in suggesting that a change in the circumstances surrounding the operation of the proposed scheme will result in the maximum cost per family being higher than his estimate of $135 a year?

Mr HAYDEN (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Social Security) - I did note Mr Schneider's comment in this morning's newspaper and I thought it an uncharacteristic but mild flight from accuracy. It seems that Mr Schneider conceives the health bill for this nation in static terms. It is far from that, as is the cost burden for any particular cost obligation of this or any other government. I have said consistently that the cost of our scheme which will give universal cover, will be about the same as the total cost of the present system of health insurance which was introduced and maintained by previous governments. The present system of health insurance at best covers about 80 per cent of the population, even allowing for the cover provided from pensioner medical services, pensioner hospital benefits and repatriation local medical officer services. The Government aims at achieving universal cover with the same volume of money, and we will achieve this by a far more efficient system of collecting and distributing the benefits provided by the scheme. For instance, we will not waste money on useless competition or advertising. We will not allow large amounts of money to be sterilised away in reserves. At latest count the amount held in reserve by medical funds is about $120m.

Mr Whitlam - 'Did you say $120m?

Mr HAYDEN - Yes, $120m. The point I make is that Mr Schneider seemed to see the estimated cost of the health program conducted by a Federal government as something that is static although this figure was set some considerable time ago. In relation to the maximum money level at which contribution would be struck on a flat rate, that level is set as a multiple of average weekly earnings, that is, about 3 to 3i times average weekly earnings. Quite obviously, that figure will move with average weekly earnings; otherwise it would become completely meaningless over the long term. There is nothing inconsistent with what I said yesterday and what I have said in the past. I repeat that the full details of the Government's program will be released shortly in a paper which will have been prepared by this Government. A basic working document assessing the fine details and calibrations that must be made to introduce the scheme is being prepared by a planning committee working within the Department of Social Security, to which have been seconded some outside experts. We will produce a document which will be published, lt will be available for the public and it will indicate that what we have said for so long, in fact, can and will be achieved. The target date for the scheme's introduction will be specified, and it will be much sooner than most people expect.

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